How We Became Accidental Landlords

We often joke that we know a lot about the home buying process and very little about selling a home. Since that cold evening thirteen years ago, when we publicly declared ’till death do us part in front of our family and friends, we’ve shared ten addresses together (I’d like to offer my apologies now to said family and friends who constantly have to update their address books on our behalf). Of our homes over the years, the majority we have rented, one was on post, and two were homes that we own. And still own to this day. Because life sure is a lot more fun with two mortgages <insert eye-rolling emoji>

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We bought our first home in a suburb of Raleigh, North Carolina when Clay ETS’ed from the Army when we were in our mid-20s. This house is what we thought we wanted – a suburban life in a new construction house with four bedrooms and 2.5 bathrooms. We lived in an apartment during our time at Fort Drum, New York and logged many House Hunters hours. We knew what we wanted. At least, we thought we did. Our Raleigh home is a lovely house but we quickly learned that we wanted something different out of life than what we were experiencing at that point in time in Raleigh.

Long story short (and boy – is it a doozy of a story!), Clay became active again soon after we bought this home. Clay deployed to Afghanistan for a year shortly after our son was born and when he returned, it was time to move again. While we didn’t purchase this home at the top of the market, the odds weren’t in our favor when it came time to sell it. We put it on the market briefly but when people began to ask if it was available for rent, we crunched some numbers, and quickly realized that it made better financial sense to put this home on the rental market.

And here we are seven years later with no plans to sell because it has become a great investment over the years. It helps that we have a fantastic property manager and the Raleigh market is booming once again. It is doubtful that we will ever call this house home again, but it will likely be a part of our lives for quite some time.

Oklahoma House

We also own a home in Lawton, Oklahoma. We didn’t love our time in Oklahoma, but we absolutely love this house. It was built in 1983 and is on a large corner lot with trees, which are a precious commodity in southwest Oklahoma. We love ranch homes and the floor plan is everything we want in a house – it isn’t large by any means but at 2000 square feet, it is more than enough room for us. We had only lived in it for 8 (!) months until we were given surprise orders to Washington, DC, so it was in our best interest to rent it out when we left. Additionally, when we were looking to buy a home in Lawton, we did so with the idea that it would eventually become a rental property so we looked for certain features. We just didn’t think it would be so soon after buying the house!

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The backyard even has the most adorable playhouse, which makes this place perfect for young family. Sigh – I really do love this house. Our experience with being landlords to this house hasn’t been as positive as our Raleigh house (older home = more things need attention) but we are not losing money on it, so we can’t really complain. We’d like to sell this house in the near future because we’d like to eventually buy another investment property elsewhere and we’re just not comfortable owning three homes at this point in our lives. Unfortunately, we’re not that baller. Like at all.

When people discover that we own multiple properties (neither of which we actually live in), we are often met with a handful of questions regarding our situation, such as…

Did you use a VA loan to purchase both houses? No. We used a conventional loan for our Raleigh house and paid points to knock the interest rate down. We had the money for a sizable down payment and we could get a better rate with a conventional loan. We did use a VA loan for our Lawton house because we purchased it when rates were extremely low and the rate the VA offered was competitive with the conventional loan market. However, we do not have near as much equity in the Lawton house and looking back, I wished we put more down initially. But alas – shoulda, woulda, coulda.

Do you plan on living in either house again? Short answer? No. Long answer? I’ve learned over the years to never say never. However, both homes are in locations that we would never choose to live again ourselves but who knows what Uncle Sam has in store for us down the line.

Why don’t you sell your Raleigh house since the market is booming again there? Our mortgage is low, we are able to charge a nice amount for rent, and years ago we refinanced to a lower-year mortgage so the house will paid off well before we hit our golden years. In the future, we may revaluate but as of right now, we’re happy keeping it as a rental.

Are you going to sell the Lawton house? Eventually. The market is more volatile there so we are considering our options. Ideally, we’d like at least a week or two to spend there between the tenant moving out and putting it on the market. There are some projects we didn’t get around to before leaving that we’d like to do before making the listing live. If you know of a great Lawton real estate agent that is willing to explore some options, let me know!

What sort of issues have you dealt with over the years? Thankfully, nothing major. We’ve had plumbing issues, fence replacements, air conditioner repairs, furnace repairs, painting that need to be done as well as re-staining of the deck, an oven door fell off and shattered, an over-the-range microwave exploded, and little small jobs that a handyman addressed. Some years are better than others and there are many months where we don’t clear a profit due to maintenance issues. But that is all part of the home ownership game.

Will you buy a home where you PCS next? No. It is very unlikely that we will buy a home (instead of renting or living on post) as long as Clay is active duty for the simple fact that we won’t live in a place for more than 1-2 years from here on out. Some military paths offer more stability in one place but that is not in our cards, which we are totally okay with…because if we weren’t, we wouldn’t be doing this whole military thing and would likely be living in one of our two homes! Ha.

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Wichita Wildlife Refuge – Lawton, Oklahoma

Who else out there consider themselves to be accidental landlords? We didn’t plan on this when beginning our home-buying journey as young twenty-somethings but like most things in life – it’s best to keep an open-mind and see where the road takes you. After all, I never would have thought I’d live among buffalo and longhorn steers in the prairie, let alone own a house there. We’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way and I’m not going to lie – sometimes it can feel a bit overwhelming to have such a large chuck of our assets tied up in real estate. But what in life is worth doing without at least a little bit of risk? Now if you excuse me, I have to answer an email that just arrived from one of our property managers (not even kidding!).

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The Good Place – It’s Forking Amazing

Last Sunday I found myself cheering for the Jacksonville Jaguars over the New England Patriots – not because they’re my favorite expansion team nor because of #deflategate. I was emotionally invested in a Jacksonville win solely because of Jason Mendoza.

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The Good Place is the best and most clever comedy on television right now. Hands down. Additionally, the show is literally filling the Parks and Recreation-sized void within me by featuring insanely smart writing, thought-provoking philosophical questions, and some of the best visual humor on television. Not to mention the seemingly limitless supply of food puns.

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Currently in it’s second season, the best way to describe The Good Place without revealing major spoilers is that is a sitcom about the afterlife – specifically about the adventures of the four characters below. Ted Danson is absolutely hilarious, Kristen Bell as adorkable as always, and D’Arcy Carden as Bad Janet is everything I don’t want my daughter to become. Like most Michael Shur comedies, there are astute observations about the irritating nuances of existence and no shortage of pop-culture references. And yes, Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback, Blake Bortles, is heavily referenced. BORTLES!

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My love for The Good Place leads me to excitedly talk about it whenever I’m asked about what I am currently watching. I’m not a fan of the traditional comedies currently on television (e.g. Big Bang Theory, Modern Family) so I’m thrilled that The Good Place continues to gain a following. Everything about the show is well executed and every episode seems to feature at least one shocking admission or mind-bending twist.

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So if you’re not watching The Good Place, you’re missing out. It is absolutely crucial that you start at the beginning, rather than jump right in with the current season. Netflix and Hulu both currently have the first season available for streaming. Embrace the weirdness of the pilot and stick with it. It pays off, I promise. So grab yourself an Arkansas bagel, some frozen yogurt, and watch The Good Place. You may even end up with your own Derek!

“That’s just the way it is. That’s the way the game is played.”

In the hours leading up to the government shutdown, the majority of the 24-hour news outlets had some variation of a ‘Shutdown Countdown’. It was impossible not to draw references from the countdown we experienced just a few weeks prior. Except this time, non-New Yorkers didn’t fill the streets of Times Square, Anderson Cooper reported from the comfort of a studio, and King Julien’s didn’t have a kid-friendly version of the countdown on Netflix. This countdown was different. This countdown was personal.

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Government shutdowns are nothing new. It seems like every fall, the threat of a shutdown looms. Our congressional leaders’ inability to pass a budget is up there with pumpkin-spiced lattes, crunchy leaves, and North Face fleece jackets as a sign that harvest season is upon our nation. The legislative branch of government might as well lean in and wear leggings, flannels, and Uggs as they cater to their special interests while publicly declaring their tireless crusade for justice and liberty for all.

My husband arrived home from TDY overseas last Thursday and received word that his TDY the following morning was postponed due to the impending shutdown. The kids (and myself) were thrilled to have him home for the weekend but we knew it came with a price. Non-essential government workers are furloughed and essential personnel will continue to serve this country without pay. As of this morning, Congress has yet to reapprove the 2013 bill that allows military members to receive paychecks during the shutdown – Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell objected the motion brought forth by Senator Claire McCaskill in the early morning hours on Friday by stating “My hope is that we can restore funding for the entire government before this becomes necessary. I’m going to object for tonight but we’ll discuss again tomorrow.” According to news outlets, it was not discussed the following day (it is noted that as I write this post, this topic is being discussed on the Senate floor).

We’re currently teaching our eight-year-old-son the game of chess. For whatever reason, he has trouble remembering that while pawns can move in a forward direction, they can only capture diagonally. He is constantly questioning why the pawns aren’t offered the same advantages as the knights or the rooks. And we’re forced to answer, “That’s just the way it is. That’s the way the game is played.” And the fact that we have to respond the same way when he asks “Why do you still have to wear your uniform and go to work, Daddy?” is absolutely infuritating. He hasn’t made the connection that military members are being used as pawns but I’m sure he will in due time – he’s a smart kid.

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There are about 1,292,000 million active duty members of the military (about 800,000 serve in the seven different reserve components) who reported to work this morning despite the shutdown. The roughly 0.4 percent of our population who swore to support and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic, will continue to do so even though without the assurance that they’ll be able to support themselves and their families. Right now, there are Americans on dangerous missions – some known, some unknown – risking their lives and upholding their oath. It shouldn’t be too much to ask the government to uphold their end of the bargain. The families of the two soldiers killed in the Apache helicopter crash on Saturday morning will not receive the death benefit entitlement until Congress passes a bill to appropriate such funds. Why is this acceptable?

Military members are no strangers to being used as pawns in the legislative process. In fact, last time we were stationed here in the nation’s capital, there was a shutdown. But that doesn’t mean we need to accept it. The majority of Americans voice support for the military – they’ll applause when uniformed members unveil the flag during a sporting event and they’ll shake the hand of a returning vet and thank them for their service – but does that really count? But I can’t help wonder how many of the fans who cheered the loudest during the pre-game ceremonies at Gillette Stadium and Lincoln Financial Field yesterday are contacting their legislative representatives today and demanding action on behalf of the military and behalf of our broken nation.

This morning, my husband laced up his boots, kissed me goodbye, and left for work before sunrise. He is going to continue to do his job, despite Congress not being able to do theirs.

 

30 Hours in Austin, Texas

Last year, when Clay’s sister and family made plans to fly out to Texas for a week-long visit, we advised them to fly into Austin rather than San Antonio because rates tend to be more reasonable and we all could spend a night or two in Austin before saying our goodbyes at the Bergstrom International Airport. We looked forward to our return getaway to the state capital (fun fact – it’s the second-most populous state capital in the nation) and after a packed-full week of San Antonio adventures, the seven of us (four adults and three kids) piled into the 4Runner and made our way to Austin, Texas.

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We took the scenic route through Hill Country – stopping in Driftwood, Texas for lunch at The Salt Lick, a favorite spot of ours to take out-of-town guests. At The Salt Lick, you can experience a winery, an outdoor playground, delicious BBQ, and the quintessential hill country Texas vibe. It’s extremely kid-friendly and despite feeding thousands of people throughout the week, it is very efficient and well-run.

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From The Salt Lick, it is just a quick 20-minute drive into downtown Austin. We checked into our hotel, The Embassy Suites Austin Downtown Town Lake, and let the kids run back and forth between our rooms while the adults enjoyed a cocktail. The hotel is perfectly situated between the Texas Capitol Building, University of Texas at Austin campus, 6th Street, and South Congress Avenue so we were able to walk almost everywhere, which is our favorite way to explore a city!

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We totally experienced 6th Street just the way it’s meant to be experienced…

…during the day with kids!

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For an afternoon snack, we went to Voodoo Doughnut and found ourselves disappointed. Perhaps we’ve been spoiled by artisan donuts throughout our travels but these just weren’t that good. Furthermore, the ordering process is insanely frustrating and completely inefficient and the person who took our order embodied every single stereotype of the millennial generation. If you find yourself in Austin craving donuts, skip Voodoo and head over to Gourdough’s Big. Fat. Donuts. We wish we did! Oh and in case you’re wondering what our picks for best donuts ever? Sugar Shack in Alexandria, Virginia and Condon’s Doughnuts in Wells, Maine. You’re welcome.

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We walked along Lady Bird Lake back to our hotel to take advantage of the manager’s reception (free drinks!) before heading back out at dusk to see the world famous bats. The largest urban bat colony in North America lives underneath the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge. During ‘bat season’ (April – November), the bats leave the bridge nightly, which results in quite the spectacle that can last up to 2-3 hours.

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We walked to the Austin-American Statesman park and waited for about 30 minutes for the first bat to emerge. And before long, we were treated to a wave of bats.

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Hard to believe but there are thousands of bats in this picture. We all commented on how awesome it would be to see the bats from the water. There were a lot of kayakers and a couple of river cruises on the water and they definitely had the best seats in the house – next time we’ll do that, for sure!

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The next morning, we checked-out of the hotel after breakfast and walked down South Congress Avenue to experience the iconic Austin street scattered with shops, restaurants, and bars.

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I mean – you can’t go to Austin and not take a picture with this mural, right? Located on the wall of Jo’s Coffee (absolutely delicious coffee!), it had been vandalized (again) since we were there last summer…the lettering is thicker this time around.

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After getting our fill of South Congress Avenue, we drove to Covert Park at Mount Bonell, a famous area alongside the Lake Austin portion of the Colorado River (not the Colorado River…Texas has their own Colorado River…because that makes sense).

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We then headed to the University of Texas campus for lunch. We ended up at Gabriel’s Cafe and enjoyed Texas beer and traditional lunch-fare. The building was hosting an MBA graduation ceremony so we definitely felt like we were on a college campus, complete with gowns and caps. University of Texas at Austin is no Clemson University but we could certainly see why so many people like it! 🙂

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We had just enough time to swing by the State Capitol Building before heading to the airport. The Texas State Capitol Building is such a cool place to visit – it’s open to the public and is gorgeous inside! Surprisingly, it isn’t the tallest state capitol building in the United States (that honor belongs to Louisiana) so I guess not everything is bigger here. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to explore all the halls and chambers like we did last summer but there is always next time.

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And before we knew it, we were saying goodbye to Meredith, Harry, and Alaina. We are so thankful they chose to spend their Spring Break while we were stationed in Texas. Who knows where the Army will send us next, but wherever it may be – we can’t wait to share it with our family and friends.